Such Stuff as Dreams are Made of

I had one of those dreams last night that I really didn’t want to end. It was about my father, or rather, it had my father in it in a prominent role. From what I can remember, it started with my dad and I in line at the commissary (for you non-military people, that’s where you buy groceries on a military base). Everything had already been rung up by the cashier when I remembered that I was holding a bunch of bananas. I told my dad that I would pay for the bananas separately as he was already writing a check. In my dream, I watch him write out the check very carefully, and I know why I am doing this. I always loved my father’s penmanship; it was very beautiful, carefully formed and readable. He hands the cashier the check, and I hand her one dollar for the bananas, and we leave the store. Then, on the drive home, we pass my mother who is driving the opposite way, and she rolls down the window and tells us that she is going to the diner with someone to have lunch. I can tell that my father is upset that she is going to the diner without him. We keep driving, and he tells me that he and my mother used to go to the diner together all of the time.

That’s about all that I can remember of the dream. Nothing particularly spectacular, other than the fact that I am spending time alone with my father, something we rarely did once I grew up. Now that he is gone, we do it a lot in my dreams. We go to a lot of places together in my dreams. We have lots of conversations, one-on-one conversations. I don’t suppose I need to mention that we didn’t do that a lot either once I got older. My father wasn’t big on conversations. He was a quiet man, at least at home, unless he was angry, and then he was loud, full of ire, sometimes uncontrollable ire. My temper is very much like my father’s at times—uncontrollable. It is not something of which I am proud. It is as if some switch goes off, and I can no longer contain the words tumbling out of my mouth, and I hate every second that this scathing venomous attack lasts. I have gotten much better at controlling this switch, but it still happens, but it takes a lot more to set it off.

But with my father, you just didn’t know how long his fuse was. I think that’s the way it is with people who hold so much inside for so long. You know that sooner or later it has to come out, but you just have no idea what is going to set it off. So spilling kool-ade might set it off, when in fact, it’s really something from three months ago that has been simmering. And then he would (to use a good old southern word) holler like crazy. So there would be hollering in the house, but it was almost always between my mom and dad.

When I was a child, I only remember two times that my father really got angry with me. I mean good and angry with me. My mother usually handled the discipline. But there were two times that my father stepped in. That was as a child. But as I got older, as a teenager, I remember my father saying something to me one time when I was acting like an ass over something that really caught me short. My dad was sitting in his usual chair in the dining room, and he looked up at me with so much pain in his eyes, and he said, “when was the last time you actually said hello to me when you walked into the house?” It stopped me dead in my tracks. In my self-absorbed 16-year-old self, I suppose it never even occurred to me that my father would want to hear hello from me, one simple word. Talk about making a person feel horrible, he hadn’t even said it in anger, just in resignation, a tired man who had realized where he stood in the hierarchy of his daughter’s priorities. God, if I could take back that moment.

But as to conversations, my father wasn’t big on sitting down and having heartfelt conversations. He would have brief conversations, usually consisting of two to three questions: “You doing okay?” “You like your job?” and maybe one or two more. If it went further, it was more of a 20 questions kind of probing on my part or on his. Not nosiness, just a comfortable questions and answer period. I think that we communicated like this mostly because he knew that I understood how taxing his communication was with my mother and I realized that if wanted me to know something, he would tell me, and that was somewhat of a relief for him. Don’t misunderstand, I’m not trying to denigrate my mother. You just have to understand her modus operandi for communication. It can be relentless and includes many assumptions, and unfortunately, I sometimes fall into that pattern if I am not careful. So often when my dad and I were together once I was older, it was in companionable silence or with a few questions here and there so that once my mother got me on the phone, she couldn’t interrogate me as to what my father and I had spoken about.

So when I have these dreams in which I am spending time with my dad at the grocery store or in the car or just talking, I relish them, cherish them because I know, deep in my heart that they are my father’s gift to me. That somehow, somewhere, my father knows that there are days on which I would give anything, everything to be able to pick up the telephone and hear his voice, but that will never ever happen again. And so I must settle for what dreams may come.


Captain Corey
Captain Corey

After being home with me for many long months, my husband is about to go back to work again. We are both conflicted about this change. I know that it is well past time. He has been increasingly antsy and impatient, and we have been sniping at each other over insignificant things since I finished school. It’s not that we don’t enjoy each others company, but he had a mission before when he was out of work: to help me get through school, and that mission has been accomplished. And he has accomplished his own mission–to finish the training that he needed to upgrade his license so that he could get back on a boat. So we both know that it is time. But after being together daily for such a long period, it is going to be quite an adjustment for the whole family.

I used to say that the only reason that my parents stayed married for so long was because my father spent so much time at sea and so little time on dry land. He was in the Navy for 20 years. He retired and tried to work at a job on dry land and hated it, so he joined the merchant marines. He sailed all over the world; his boat was even hit during the Viet Nam war. He worked on big boats until he was 67. He tried to retire when he was 62, but he just couldn’t do it. Not working drove him crazy, so he went back to work for another five years. He finally retired at 67 and spent the last six years of his life fishing and gardening, and he and my mom spent that five years in an uneasy kind of detente. It worked for most of the time, but then there would be flair ups, and I would be the U.N. It was like that for most of my life, but by that point, I had gotten really good at it. But my father was never comfortable anywhere except at sea. Anyone who really knew him, understood that about him.

I wouldn’t say that about Corey. He doesn’t sail on the big boats for months at a time. He is on near coastal tug boats for weeks at a time. That I can handle. I can understand the call of the sea myself. I am comfortable on the water. I love driving over bridges and looking out over the water when Corey is out and imagining where he is at that moment. The sea is alluring and hypnotic. I even toyed with the idea of buying a boat and living on it when I was in college–a Tartan 27′. To this day, I still wish that I had done it, but the more practical side of me won out. But that is why I understand why Corey likes his time on the water and enjoys his job, and I don’t begrudge him that time. I do worry because it isn’t a typical 9 to 5 job in any sense of the word. But I know that’s part of the appeal for him. And so I know that he needs to go back to his boats for himself just as much as he needs to go back to work for the family.

Which brings me to another point. My sons love Corey intensely. He has been there for them since they were in grade school. My older son in particular relates to his step-father very well, and he is at an age at which he would rather go to Corey than me when he has a problem because, well, I am female, and therefore, I supposedly do not know anything about his problems. I understand my son’s reluctance and am glad that he feels this closeness with my husband, his step-dad. It was one of the things that endeared me so much to Corey, how well my children adopted him. That was a prerequisite for my bringing someone into our family in the first place. But it was my oldest son’s easy love for Corey that showed me what kind of man he really was.

The separation from their father was very hard on all of us, and I did not date anyone seriously before Corey. In fact, I only went on a few dates as I really was not looking for nor expecting anything, so my connection with Corey was unexpected and surprising, mostly because of the difference in our ages. I deliberately did not introduce him to my children for a while as I did not know where things were going, but once I did let him get to know my kids, they began to open their hearts to him after their initial trepidation, and he did the same. I won’t try to tell you that the road has not had its bumps and curves because of course, it has. But he has learned from them, and they from him. So when he first started to go to sea, it was an adjustment for all of us, and they would count the days just as I did.

Now that he is going back, part of my anxiety is how Eamonn will act with Corey not at home. I am hoping for the best, but not expecting it. But I will try not to be a pessimist and give Eamonn the benefit of the doubt, so I must wait and see how things play out. Things will be new for all of us. Corey will be with a new company. I will be taking care of my own health problems and the house and the boys. The boys will be handling things with just me, just mom as mediator. And for a few weeks at a time, it will just be the boys, the dogs, and me. I’m sure we’ll be fine, and if not, I’m sure you’ll hear about it . . .